Elmer Kelton Joe Pepper (Tales of Texas)

ISBN 13: 9780812561579

Joe Pepper (Tales of Texas)

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9780812561579: Joe Pepper (Tales of Texas)
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Joe Pepper is a Texas badman with quite a past. In fact, there isn't much that Joe hasn't done in his forty years of living on both sides of the Texas law-except face the hangman. Now, convicted of murder, Joe is about to get that privilege. But before he goes, Joe has a few things he wants to say-and a few stories that he wants to set straight.

With Joe Pepper, legendary Western writer Elmer Kelton tells a fine and moving tale of the history of his home state of Texas.

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About the Author:

Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men's Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years, and served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
 
 
Well, preacher, if you've come to pray over me in my last hours, I'm afraid it's too late. I've seen a few of them last-minute conversions, and I never put much stock in them. I doubt as the Lord does, either. But I'm grateful for your company anyway. Looks like they're going to hammer on that scaffold out there all night, so I won't be getting no sleep. Far as I'm concerned they could put it off a day or two and not work so hard.
Don't be bashful. If you want to hear my story, all you got to do is ask for it. It can't be used against me now. I've seen what they said was my story lots of times, written up in the newspapers and penny-dreadfuls. Lies, most of them. Some reporter listens to a few wild rumors, gets him a pencil, some paper and a jug, and he writes the whole true story of Joe Pepper, big bad gun-fighter of the wild West. Damn liars, most of them newspaper people. Tell one of them the time of day and he'll set his watch wrong.
I think I know what you're after…you'd like to have the story straight so you can tell it to your congregation. Maybe it'll scare some of them twisty boys and turn them aside from the paths of iniquity. It might at that, though I can't say I've wasted much time regretting the things I've done. My main regret has been over some men I didn't shoot when I had the chance.
Don't expect me to give you the dates, and maybe I'll disremember a name or two. I figure a man's head can just hold so much information, and he'd better not fill it up with a lot of unnecessaries.
I've always liked to tell people I was born in Texas, but since you're a preacher I won't lie to you. I always wished I was born in Texas. The truth is that I was born just across the line in Louisiana. My daddy and mama, they could look across the river and see Texas; they was of that old-time Texian breed, and it was just an ancient of war that I wasn't born where I was supposed to be. You've heard of the great Runaway Scrape? That was after Santa Anna and them Mexicans wiped out the Alamo and massacred all of them soldiers at Goliad. The settlers, they lit out in a wild run for the Sabine River to get across into the United States before Santa Anna could overtake them.
Now, my daddy was in Sam Houston's army for a while, leaving my mama with some neighbors on the land he had claimed in Austin's colony. But when the Scrape started, he got to fretting about her, knowing she was nigh to them. Didn't look then like Sam Houston intended to fight anyway; he just kept backing off, letting Santa Anna come on and on. So my daddy deserted and rushed my mama across into Louisiana where she would be safe. While he was there, Sam Houston and his bunch whipped the britches off of Santa Anna at San Jacinto. Daddy missed out on that. He also missed out on the league and labor of land that the Republic of Texas granted to all the San Jacinto soldiers. If he'd of been in on that, we'd o been a lot more prosperous than we ever was.
The rest of his life he always told people he had been a soldier under Sam Houston. He didn't tell them about the deserting, and the Runaway Scrape.
When the war was over my folks went back to the farm, and of course I was with them by then. You'll hear people who don't know no better bragging about what a wonderful grand thing it was, the Republic of Texas. Either they don't know or they're so old and senile that they've forgot. It was a cruel, hard time. There wasn't no money to be had, hardly, and most people had to grub deep just to hold body and soul together. Seems to me like the first thing I can remember is following my mama and daddy down the rows of a cottonfield. Time I was old enough to take hold of a hoehandle, they had one ready for me. Only time I ever laid it down in the daylight was to take hold of something heavier. I remember watching my folks grow old before their time, trying their best not to lose that little old place.
I was grown and hiring out for plowman's wages when the War between the States come on. I was a good marksman like everybody else in that country then; most of the meat we ever had on the table was wild game that I went out and shot. There was people that used to run hogs loose along the rivers and creeks, living off of the acorns and such. Every once in a while I would shoot me one of those and tell the folks it was a wild one. They wouldn't of eaten it no other way. Religious folks they was; they'd of taken a liking to you, preacher. But I always felt like the Lord helped them that helped theirselves, and I helped myself any time it come handy.
Well, like I say, the war started. Right off, I volunteered. My old daddy, he joined up too. It had always gnawed at him, I reckon, that he wasn't there when Sam Houston won that other war. He wanted to be in on this one. So he left Mama and the kids to take care of the place, and him and me went off to war. He never did get there, though. We hadn't been gone from home three weeks till he was taken down with the fever and died without ever seeing a Yankee. We gave him a Christian burial three hundred miles from home. I always wanted to go back someday and put up a stone, but I never could find the place, not within five miles. Probably fenced into somebody's cow pasture now.
The war wasn't nothing I like to talk about. My part in it wasn't much different from most any other soldier's. I taken three bullet wounds, one time and another. I killed a few men that had never done nothing against me except shoot at me. Maybe that sounds funny to you, but it's true. There wasn't nothing personal in it; they was shooting at everybody that wore a uniform the color of mine. They didn't know me from Robert E. Lee. It was our job to kill more of them than they killed of us.
Everybody seemed to feel like it was all right for me to shoot strangers in the war, but in later years they got awful self-righteous. Some wanted to hang me when I'd shot a man that did have a personal fight with me, men that wanted to kill Joe Pepper, only Joe Pepper beat them to it. Folks would say I'd forgotten the war was over. Well, it never was over for me. Seems like I've been in one war or another most of my life. I never could get it straight, them changing the rules on me all the time.
I was way over in Pennsylvania when the war was over and they told us to go home. I had taken a good sorrel horse off of a dead Yankee, but that chicken-brained captain of ours led us into an ambush that a blind mule could've seen, and the horse got shot out from under me. The best officers we had got killed off in the first years of the war, seemed like, and mostly what we had left in the last part was the scrubs and the cutbacks. The night after they told us to go home, I slipped along the picket line and taken a good big gray horse of the captain's. I figured he owed me that for getting my sorrel shot. I knowed he wouldn't take the same view on it, though, so I was thirty miles toward Texas by daylight.
That horse was the making of my first fortune, in a manner of speaking. Big stout horse he was, about fifteen hands high, Tennessee stock. Once I had schooled him, I could rope a full-grown range bull on him and he'd bust that bull over backwards. But that was later on, of course. That was when I was still known as Joe Peeler. The Joe Pepper name came later.
When I got back to the old homeplace I found out Mama had died, and the kids was taking care of the farm themselves. Couple of the boys was grown and plenty able. They didn't have no need of me, and one thing they didn't need was an extra mouth to feed. So I taken off and headed south with an old army friend of mine, Arlee Thompson. He had come from below San Antonio in the Nueces Strip country. That was a rough territory them days, Mexican outlaws coming across the line to see what they could take and run with, American outlaws settling there so if they was pressed they could always run for Mexico. The honest people--what there was of them--had a hard time. Even the honest ones fought amongst theirselves a right smart, Americanos against Mexicans and vice versa. You'd of thought they had trouble enough without that, but they didn't seem to think so.
The ranches had let a lot of their cattle go unbranded through the war because there just wasn't enough men to do the job. There was grown cattle there--bulls three and four years old that had never felt knife or iron--cows with their second or third calf at side, their ears and hides as slick as the calves' were. Cattle wasn't worth much in them first times after the war, hardly worth anybody fighting over. People fought anyway, of course. Men'll fight when they can't even eat. Me and Arlee, we figured there'd be money in cattle again. We set out to claim as many as we could. Mavericking is what we called it them days, after a man named Maverick who said all the branded cattle belonged to the man who registered the brand, and all the unbranded cattle belonged to him.
Now, there was some people who didn't take kindly to what we done. You ever hear of Jesse Ordway? He was a power in that lower country. He didn't go to war himself, so he was sitting down there putting things together while most of the men was off fighting Yankees. He gobbled up a lot of that country, taking it away from the Mexicans, buying out war widows for a sack of cornmeal and such like. He didn't object to people branding mavericks as long as they was working for him and burning his brand on them, but it sure did put the gravel under his skin to see other people doing it. He thought he had him a nice private little hunting preserve. The rest of us was poachers.
But damn good poachers we was. Inside of a year me and Arlee had us a pretty good-sized herd of cattle apiece. We didn't own an acre of ground, either one of us, but half the people down there didn't. Jesse Ordway didn't actually own a fraction of what he claimed. Most of it he just squatted on and used because he was bigger and stronger than anybody else and had the gall to hold it.
I didn'...

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